Retired Police Captain Waverly Underhill (Dave Ellsworth) was the lead character in the Captain Underhill mysteries which were presented sporadically over radio from 1982-2010 as part of the Cape Cod Radio Mystery Theatre. He was joined by Wally O’Hara as Doctor Alexander Scofield, his friend and physician. This set collects seven total mysteries, with most ranging between 50 minutes and an hour and a half in length.
Most of the mysteries are set in the contemporary era of the program, although two episodes feature tales from the 1960s when Underhill was still an active policeman and encountered cases involving JFK and the Beetles.
This set was my first time encountering Captain Underhill and I enjoyed both Underhill and Doctor Scofield. The two have al New England “Holmes and Watson” vibe that works for them without seeming too derivative. They work well together and they’re fun to listen to.
Underhill makes a great lead detective character. He’s sharp and insightful but his methods have just the right amount of eccentricity to make the story interesting. You never quite know what he’s going to do next but he always has a reason for it in the end.
The lead performances are consistently good and as are most of the secondary performances. There were a couple of guest performances that were weaker, which could be irritating but not enough to ruin the story.
The mysteries are all intriguing with a great mix of real clues and red herrings and it’s always great to hear how Underhill works the solution out. For the most part, the length of the episodes gives the story more space to breathe and allows for more complex plots than half-hour radio programs. However, there are a couple of instances where it did feel padded. One key example was one story that featured eleven minutes of a radio report that wasn’t particularly relevant to the plot.
More than anything else, I love the atmosphere of the series. The series was recorded in New England and there’s some solid research into places and people that give it a real stamp of authenticity like you’ve traveled to Cape Cod. I really wish there were more programs like it: Entertaining, locally made radio drama that captures the sound and feel of a place.
I was somewhat disappointed to learn the first episode in the collection wasn’t the first episode of the series. Apparently, the early episodes are available on Audible as individual downloads. Still, it would be nice for all of the mysteries to be available as a collection.
My favorite story on this set was “The Case of the Shooting Star” where Captain Underhill is at a party on the night that someone is apparently is killed in bed by a falling meteor. The way he finds out what’s going on and delivers his deductions are just brilliant. My least favorite, “The Case of the Four Little Beatles.” The mystery is probably the weakest and feels more like a contrived bit of baby boomer nostalgia. Maybe if you’re more into the Beetles, you’d enjoy the story more, but it fell a bit flat for me.
Overall, though, these are still good enjoyable modern radio drama mysteries that I can recommend to fans of radio detective programs, particularly of the cozy sort.
Rating: 4 out of 5
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